Researching from the inside — does it compromise
New epistemologies, validity and the changing role of the researcher
In recent decades, changes in philosophical conceptions of reality,
knowledge and truth have taken place. New ontological and epistemological
models have emerged which fundamentally challenge previous positivist
models. These include critical approaches such as constructivism,
postmodernism and poststructuralism. Although they have various
individual claims and beliefs, they rest on the common epistemological
premise that truths or meanings do not exist independently, but
are created by the human mind on an individual/personal level. Instead
of uncovering an `objective truth', we create truth or meaning through
engaging with realities in our world (Crotty
1998). These challenging models fundamentally changed the purpose
of research, the researcher's role and concepts of objectivity and
With the emergence of new methodologies and an increase in qualitative
research, the purposes of research diversified. Many followed the
belief that research should `participate in emancipatory and democratising
social transformation, not simply the `neutral' collection, analysis
and reportage of data' (Apple quoted in Hammersley
2000: 8) Thus this period saw an increase in genres such as
anti-racism (Wright 1993; Neal
1998), feminism (Fine 1994;
Riddell 1989), action research
Holian 1999) and `queer' research (Gamson
2000; Leck 1994). Other genres
such as autoethnography and life history also emerged, whose main
purpose was usually to `understand a self or some aspect of a life
lived in a cultural context' (Ellis
and Bochner 2000, p.742).
Within such a context, the researcher's role changed considerably.
One of the most significant changes occurred in the role of the
researcher and the notion of objectivity. Many challenged the ideal
of objectivity, arguing that it was impossible (Hammersley
2000). According to this view, when carrying out research we
inevitably draw from our social, cultural and historical background
at all stages of the research process (note
2). Within this framework, achieving validity in the positivist
sense is impossible. Thus new interpretations of validity emerged.
Some adopted a neopositivist stance arguing that, although complete
objectivity is impossible, it forms an essential framework for the
research process. (Hammersley
and Gomm 1997). From this point of view, validity should be
strived for by conducting research in a rigorous and systematic
manner and by minimizing the impact of researchers' biases (Hammersley
and Gomm 1997).
Postmodernists rejected traditional notions of validity, arguing
that objective truth or reality does not exist (Ellis
and Bochner 2000). They argued that because reality is the product
of individual consciousness, multiple realities may exist (note
If truth and reality exist only as the product of individual consciousness,
what constitutes validity? Accuracy? Truth? Credibility? Understanding?
Maxwell (quoted in Cohen et al.
2000: 106) and Mishler (quoted in Cohen
et al. 2000: 106) suggest that `understanding' is a more suitable
term in qualitative research. Guba et al. (quoted in Cohen
et al. 2000: 106) argue for the need to replace positivist notions
of validity in qualitative research with the notion of `authenticity'.
Denzin and Lincoln (2000: 21)
suggest that positivist terms should be replaced by notions of `credibility,
transferability, dependability and confirmability'.
Considering the complex issues surrounding notions of validity,
researchers -- particularly those working in the area of qualitative
research -- face a considerable challenge. If it is acknowledged
that their research will always be coloured by their subjectivities,
how can they produce `trustworthy' research? The validity dilemma
is particularly salient when the researcher is an insider to the